Is there a “typical” relationship between the Narcissist and his family?
We are all members of a few families in our lifetime: the one that we are born to and the one(s) that we create. We all transfer hurts, attitudes, fears, hopes and desires – a whole emotional baggage – from the former to the latter. The narcissist is no exception.
The narcissist has a dichotomous view of humanity: humans are either Sources of Narcissistic Supply (and, then, idealised and over-valued) or do not fulfil this function (and, therefore, are valueless, devalued). The narcissist gets all the love that he needs from himself. From the outside he needs approval, affirmation, admiration, adoration, attention – in other words, externalised Ego boundary functions. He does not require – nor does he seek – his parents’ or his siblings’ love, or to be loved by his children. He casts them as the audience in the theatre of his inflated grandiosity. He wishes to impress them, shock them, threaten them, infuse them with awe, inspire them, attract their attention, subjugate them, or manipulate them. He emulates and simulates an entire range of emotions and employs every means to achieve these effects. He lies (narcissists are pathological liars – their very self is a false one). He plays the pitiful, or, its opposite, the resilient and reliable. He stuns and shines with outstanding intellectual, or physical (or anything else appreciated by the members of the family) capacities and achievements. When confronted with (young) siblings or with his own children, the narcissist is likely to undergo three reactive phases:
At first, he perceives his offspring as a threat to his Narcissistic Supply Sources (his turf, the Pathological Narcissistic Space). He does his best to belittle them, hurt (also physically) and humiliate them and then, when these reactions prove ineffective or counter productive, he retreats into an imaginary world of omnipotence. A period of emotional absence and detachment ensues. The narcissist indulges himself in daydreaming, delusions of grandeur, planning of future coups, nostalgia and hurt (the Lost Paradise Syndrome). The narcissist reacts this way to the birth of his children or to the introduction of new centres of attention to the family cell (even a new pet!).
Whatever the narcissist perceives to be his competition for scarce Narcissistic Supply is relegated to the role of the enemy. Where no legitimacy exists for the uninhibited expression of the aggression and hostility aroused by this predicament – the narcissist prefers to stay away. He disconnects, detaches himself emotionally, becomes cold and disinterested, directs transformed anger at his mate or at his parents (the more legitimate targets).
Other narcissists see the opportunity in the “mishap”. They seek to manipulate their parents (or their mate) by “taking over” the newcomer. Such narcissists monopolise their siblings or their new-born children. This way, indirectly, the narcissist basks in the attention directed at the infant. An example: by being closely identified with his offspring, a narcissistic father secures the grateful admiration of the mother (“What an outstanding father he is”). He also assumes part of or all the credit for baby’s/sibling’s achievements. This is a process of annexation and assimilation of the other, a strategy that the narcissist makes use of in most of his relationships.
As the baby/sibling grows older, the narcissist begins to see their potential to be edifying, reliable and satisfactory Sources of Narcissistic Supply. His attitude, then, is completely transformed. The former threats have now become promising potentials. He cultivates those whom he trusts to be the most rewarding. He encourages them to idolise him, to adore him, to be awed by him, to admire his deeds and capabilities, to learn to blindly trust and obey him, in short to surrender to his charisma and to become submerged in his folies-de-grandeur. These roles – allocated to them explicitly and demandingly or implicitly and perniciously by the narcissist – are best fulfilled by ones whose mind is not fully formed and independent. The older the siblings or offspring, the more they become critical, even judgmental, of the narcissist. They are better able to put into context and perspective his actions, to question his motives, to anticipate his moves. They refuse to continue to play the mindless pawns in his chess game. They hold grudges against him for what he has done to them in the past, when they were less capable of resistance. They can gauge his true stature, talents and achievements – which, usually, lag far behind the claims that he makes.
This brings the narcissist a full cycle back to the first phase. Again, he perceives his Siblings or sons/daughters as threats. He quickly becomes disillusioned, in one of the spastic devaluation reactions typical of his appraisal of humans around him. He loses all interest, becomes emotionally remote, absent and cold, rejects any effort to communicate with him, citing life pressures and the preciousness and scarceness of his time. He feels burdened, cornered, besieged, suffocated, and claustrophobic. He wants to get away, to abandon his commitments to people who have become totally useless (or even damaging) to him. He does not understand why he has to support them, to suffer their company and he believes himself to have been trapped. He rebels either passively-aggressively (by refusing to act or intentionally sabotaging the relationships) or actively (by being overly critical, aggressive, unpleasant, verbally and psychologically abusive and so on). Slowly – to justify his acts to himself – he gets immersed in conspiracy theories with clear paranoid hues. To his mind, the members of the family conspire against him, seek to belittle or humiliate or subordinate him, do not understand him, stymie his growth. The narcissist usually finally gets what he wants and the family that he has created disintegrates to his great sorrow (due to the loss of the Narcissistic Space) – but also to his great relief and surprise (how could they have let go someone as unique as he?).
This is the cycle: the narcissist feels threatened by arrival of new family members – assimilation of siblings or offspring – obtaining Narcissistic Supply from them – overvaluation of these new sources by the narcissist – as sources grow older and independent, they adopt anti narcissistic behaviours – the narcissist devalues them – the narcissist feels stifled and trapped – the narcissist becomes paranoid – the narcissist rebels and the family disintegrates. This cycle characterises not only the family life of the narcissist. It is to be found in other realms of his life (his career, for instance). At work, the narcissist, initially, feels threatened (no one knows him, he is a nobody). Then, he develops a circle of admirers, cronies and friends which he “nurtures and cultivates” in order to obtain Narcissistic Supply from them. He overvalues them (they are the brightest, the most loyal, with the biggest chances to climb the corporate ladder and other superlatives).
But following some anti-narcissistic behaviours on their part (a critical remark, a disagreement, a refusal, however polite, all constitute such behaviours) – the narcissist devalues all these previously over-valued individuals. Now they are stupid, lack ambition, skills and talents, common (the worst expletive in the narcissist’s vocabulary), with an unspectacular career ahead of them. The narcissist feels that he is misallocating his resources (for instance, his time). He feels besieged and suffocated. He rebels and erupts in a serious of self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours, which lead to the disintegration of his life.
Doomed to build and ruin, attach and detach, appreciate and depreciate, the narcissist is predictable in his Death Wish. What sets him apart from other suicidal types is that his wish is granted to him in small, tormenting doses throughout his anguished life.